5 Things I Learned in January

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I’ve always been someone who needs to reflect and process the world around me. Sometimes I feel like I have lost the moment if I don’t think and write about what just occurred. Perhaps that’s why I have 15 journals since middle school. So when I recently saw how author Emily Freeman regularly practices the art of “looking back” on her blog, I thought it would be a great discipline for me to implement once in a while in my own writing space.

Here are five simple things I learned in January:

1. I would rather be faithful to Jesus than successful in the world’s eyes.

Do you ever feel that deep drive for success – to be known, good at what you do, and appreciated by others? I think that’s a natural feeling most of us have inside us. But Jesus views success in a much different light than the world – not by numbers, praise, accomplishment, getting even, climbing to the top and more. He got down on his knees and washed – probably scrubbed in that day – the dirty, smelly feet of his disciples. He came to serve and not to be served – to give his life as a ransom for many. At the end of my life, I don’t want others to say I was successful, but that I was faithful in what God gave me to do.

2. I’m often quick to tell God what should happen, instead of allowing him to lead.

When my son John was five he came to an understanding that Jesus died for his sins and that he needed a Savior. I had always wondered when he’d be ready to be baptized, but I felt he needed to wait until he was older and truly understood it. I feared that we would make a mistake in the timing as parents. He is now seven and my husband has been working with him on understanding the meaning and why we do it.

Last week, Jeremiah said that John was ready to show our community of faith that he has trusted in his Savior. We’re so excited that John will be baptized at the end of this month among others in our church who want to publicly declare Jesus as their Savior. We’re confident in the timing and God is teaching me to trust his plans and that He knows best, even in the midst of my fears and concerns.

3. I need to get back up.

Just because I wrote down my one-word resolution “Clean” for the year doesn’t mean it will happen perfectly each day. I have already failed at my aim for clean eating when I ate my child’s preservative filled Welch’s pack of gummies yesterday. They were good! I’ve failed to have clean lips at times. I’ve failed to build up my husband and children with my words.

When I sin, the important thing is that I get back up and dust the dirt off my feet. Instead of wallowing in shame or in my sin, I need to do the next thing that’s required of me and seek reconciliation. When I hurt those closest to me, I need to ask forgiveness and own my part in the conflict. Living in this truth every day is life changing knowing that His grace allows me to start fresh again.

4. Life is too serious not to laugh.

I can be a pretty serious and sensitive person. In our ten years of marriage, my husband has helped me find the humor in things that I simply cannot find on my own. In my Tuesday morning Bible study, we usually don’t get through the serious stuff in our book without a good laugh or at least a good laugh at ourselves.

Life is already heavy, isn’t it? It is hard. The burdens we carry are sometimes so unbearable. Proverbs says that a cheerful heart is good medicine for the soul. I love what my friend wrote in a text recently, Just give yourself grace. It reminded me that I take myself too seriously sometimes.

 5. Contentment is great gain.

When it’s winter, we long for the flowers to bloom. When it’s summer, we wish for the leaves to fall. When our babies are young, we want them grown up. When they’re older, we wish they were young again. After moving to Colorado, we left behind a stunning master bath Jeremiah had remodeled. It was my place of retreat at the end of the day and the gorgeous tub was my “push present” after delivering my son Will.

I miss that jacuzzi tub with the inline heater so much. But I know I can’t dwell on the past but I can be thankful for all the many blessings God has given us in our new home and town. The Lord is teaching me to be content in all circumstances and to be present in the now.

There are many other things I learned in January, but those stick out the most. I think that when I reflect on my life years from now I’ll be thankful I took the time to practice the art of looking back.

What did you learn in January? Is there anything that comes to mind that you don’t want to forget?

Finding Your Tuesday People: Out of Loneliness and into Community

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About six months into my family and I being settled into our new home in a brand new state, I expressed to my husband that I felt really lonely. I was loving everything about where God had put us. The serenity, beauty, community, our church, and the simple way of life had my heart (still does!), but I still felt like something was missing. Solid relationships and friendships have been important to me since I was a child.

“Well, I think you’re going to have to be intentional in reaching out,” my husband responded being the logical man that he is.

I pouted a bit about it. “Well, I kind of want them to invite me…” I replied.

Then I remembered the popular phrase that goes something like this,

To make a friend you have to first be a friend. 

IMG_1956Deep down, I was waiting for an invitation. And the funny thing is that I already had several invitations from others but I was focusing on the negative and just in a “poor me” state of mind. Have you ever been there? I began praying that God would help me in those feelings of loneliness and I asked him to sort them out for me. I started inviting others for lunch or coffee and began to minister to others, instead of being focused on myself and waiting for others to come to me.

There happened to be two moms who I consistently rubbed shoulders with and enjoyed their company. Out of the blue, I got a text from one who invited me to coffee at her home. I felt like a kid again, excited to be included and invited. The three of us met and talked about life, struggles, and hopes. From that meeting, they asked me about my interest in leading a Bible study. At first I was nervous about starting it from scratch, but I was definitely up for the challenge. I loved that they asked because I’m not sure if I would have without their prodding.

We eventually landed on a book to go through and yesterday we finished our third meeting. There are five us who meet and a few who are considering joining in the future. Over coffee (a must!) and a sweet snack, we dive into Scripture, pray, and discover how the truths in the book relate to our everyday life. It is a highlight of my week and keeps me accountable to reading.

282540_SimplyTuesdayFreeman_pins5In the wonderful book, Simply Tuesday, author Emily Freeman shares about the importance of having your “Tuesday people.” Tuesday is the most ordinary day of the week. We need those friends that we can share life with in the mundane, small moments of life. Friends that we can be comfortable with letting our insecurities out on the table. We need people who will pull up a chair or sit on a bench beside us and listen to our stories.

While we are still getting to know each other, this group has been that for me and I have been blessed because of it. Ironically, we meet on Tuesday mornings too so they are my Tuesday people in this season of life. Our time together has helped get me out of the lonely zone and into community where people can know who I am and where I can in turn, know who they are.

If you’re finding yourself stuck in a funk of loneliness, know that you really aren’t alone. Maybe for you, it will mean sending that text and inviting someone into your home. Maybe it will mean inviting someone to lunch or dinner. It could mean offering to watch someone’s kids so they can have a break. Maybe it will require being very intentional in the sphere of influence God has put you.

We live in a well-connected society digitally, yet many of us remain disconnected and lonely in our relationships. The good thing is that we can do something about it by extending a hand and inviting someone to sit on the bench with us in the real, ordinary days of life.

Who knows, maybe God will do something great in your relationships as you first seek to be a friend to someone else.

My One Word Resolution for 2016

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Several years ago, I ditched writing down the long list of New Year’s resolutions and instead adopted the idea of sticking to a one word theme for the whole year thanks to the website MyOneWord.org. It’s not that I didn’t fulfill my goals in past years, but when I fell short on them, I felt like a failure. Plus, I needed more simplicity and something different.

I loved the idea of choosing one word to inspire you the whole year and throughout each day. On our way driving back from Christmas vacation in the Midwest, I saw a church sign that read:

Daily devotion is better than a New Year’s Resolution.

That really struck a chord with me. I want to be devoted daily to the disciplines and responsibilities that are required of me right now, rather than being so committed to a pie in the sky resolution that isn’t specific or realistic.

In 2014, I chose to go with the word discipline. In 2015, I picked the word joy. And this year, it took me a few days to decide on the word C L E A N. I don’t know about you, but there are areas in my life that need some cleaning. I’m naturally a bit messy. I have to work hard at organization. My brain just doesn’t function in an orderly manner all the time. I want to be clean in the respect of my home.

Spiritually, I desire to have a clean heart and lips. I want my heart to be pure so I can more clearly hear from the Lord. I want to build others up this year with my words. I also want to have clean eating – less foods that include preservatives and additives and more foods made from scratch. I’m sure as the year progresses, I’ll find more areas that involve the word  C L E A N.

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In case you set some New Year’s Resolutions and are finding it difficult to stay committed to them, may I suggest that you choose one word for your 2016 instead? Some ideas for your word could be: balance, contentment, freedom, strength, trust, courage, prayer, simplicity, service, perseverance, peace, healthy, community, creativity, and more. It might take some time to think about which word suits you well. Once you have the word, write down why you chose it and what you hope to gain from committing to that word. You could go even further and paste it on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror so it’s easily visible. The important thing is that you allow yourself to be regularly reminded of it so you can take daily action.

2016 is a clean slate and a time to start from scratch. May you have a great beginning, daily devoting yourself to the tasks in front of you right now.

Have you already chosen your one word? What word do you think suits you well for 2016?

Blessings,

Samantha

Fighting For Your Family

boxing_wallpaper1337Several Sundays ago, we were getting ready for church and from across the hallway you could hear screaming and yelling. There was an all out brawl in our living room over which child took the other’s pink story Bible.

“No, it’s mine!” my five-year-old daughter yells.

“No, I want it! I want it!” my three-year-old daughter yells back. After some hair pulling and name calling, the three-year-old then runs from her sister and into our bedroom hiding from her sister with a sneaky face.

I still had to do my hair and finish putting my mascara on because you know, we had to be at church in 20 minutes. I was still waking up too because I’m not a morning person. I could barely handle the noise level and sibling rivalry. The yells and screams were shattering to my ears. After some discipline and working out the conflict, I assured my three-year-old that she’d get her own Bible one day and that was enough to dissolve the chaos…

Read the rest of the article over at FortheFamily.org. 

Why You Should Practice the “F” Word

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“Rebekah, stop saying mean words to your sister Hannah! She loves you,” I corrected my oldest daughter a few days ago. We have had quite the battles with the tongue lately.

“Noooo! She does not love me!” Rebekah shouted.

“When I was little, she took my paci out of my mouth and it was sooo rude!”

I looked at Rebekah and had to laugh as it reminded me of her pacifier obsession a few years ago. Weaning her from those green rubber suckers was such a work-out! She found them no matter how well Jeremiah and I hid them. I had no idea she remembered Hannah trying to steal them from her.

The conversation reminded me that some things just don’t die off in life or are that easily forgivable even to a young child. Whether it’s a hurtful word or action, an unmet expectation, or a harm done against us that we just can’t seem to move past, forgiveness is really, really hard. It is an act of the will. It is a choice that we are commanded of in Scripture because we have been forgiven of so much. But that doesn’t mean the sting and pain will disappear over night.

I love what Atlanta-based pastor Charles Stanley once said:

Forgiveness does not recant the fact that what happened to us was wrong. Instead, we roll our burdens onto the Lord and allow Him to carry them for us.

IMG_0368_blogWhen we remain in bitterness, anger, and resentment, we remain in our chains. But when we choose to break off those chains, rolling our burdens onto the Lord, we find freedom because He is carrying the load for us. We find peace, love, patience, gentleness, joy, abundant life, transformation and more.

It is only in Jesus’ strength that we can truly forgive someone who has deeply wounded us. It is only by His hands that we can walk through the fires that seek to destroy our hearts. And sometimes he asks us to do hard things: To confess our harbored bitterness or go to the person who has offended us. Sometimes, we have to be really brave and forgive ourselves.

Do your wounds run deep from pain inflicted on you or pain that you have caused? They may not be quite as small as a pacifier offense, but don’t neglect that the hurt is real. Last year, I went through a 12-step recovery ministry at our church in Dallas called Regeneration.  Our leadership from the front strongly encourages people to go through the program because we all have areas where we struggle. During my time, I had to participate in a personal moral inventory where I had to write down every sin committed against me and every sin I have committed against another.

It was a grueling process. And not only that, I had to confess it to two trusted mentor friends. I somewhat dreaded the evening I was to confess. I was a bit terrified of what my friends would think but to my surprise, it was one of the most freeing and healing moments of my 32 years of life. I was accepted, not judged, and met with compassion and understanding. There was just something about writing my sins down and knowing that Jesus had died for every one of them. My sins were why he had to come. And he loved me unconditionally. And not only my sins, but the sins of the whole world. It was also in that process where I was able to see more clearly what I needed to forgive.

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The truth is that forgiveness isn’t always a one time deal. It is something we need a great deal of help on and it doesn’t always mean slapping a band-aid on the wound and saying, “Just forgive. Get over it.” The wounds have to be exposed, brought into the light, and cleaned out deeply before they can fully heal.

Forgiveness is also something that has to be practiced. It’s something of a discipline. All I really know is that it’s something of a God-thing. It is only by His power that we can truly forgive.

Remember that Jesus is always there for you when you need to confess: I hurt. I can’t carry this burden of bitterness anymore. Please help me forgive so that I may live a life of freedom and help others in turn.

What do you need to forgive today? Are you practicing the command to forgive?

For the Love of October

This article was originally published in Samantha’s Salt in The Holyoke Enterprise – October 22, 2015 (photos included in this post only).

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when you can wear long sleeves & go barefoot

If there were a month out of the year I couldn’t live without, it would be October. And it’s not just because I was born at the beginning of the month, along with my husband and two oldest children who are late October babies, but I’ve always loved and anticipated this change of season and all of its splendor.

I love the way the wind blows the leaves and they fall patiently to the ground. I love how the trees pop with reds, browns, and golds like a crown of glory. I love the cooler mornings and the warmth of the late afternoon sun. And I don’t think your front porch could ever have too many orange pumpkins or that you could have a shortage of anything pumpkin-spiced.

Just this past weekend while I was at Homesteader’s Park taking some family photos, I was instantly caught up in the beauty of my surroundings – everything from the sun’s golden rays, the shadows, the yellow leaves coming through on the trees, the green landscape, and the slight breeze against my skin. I would’ve planted myself there all morning if I didn’t have responsibilities at home.

In the novel Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne declares: “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it? Look at these maple branches. Don’t they give you a thrill—several thrills? I’m going to decorate my room with them.”

IMG_9848Don’t you just love Anne’s words? “Thrill” couldn’t be a more perfect description of autumn. Each morning I step outside and see the colors changing and notice new trees shining in their brilliance, I sense that thrill and rush. The beauty is revitalizing and inspiring.

On Tuesday, my daughter Rebekah was playing in our front yard and picking the leaves off the tree while she waited for her ride to preschool. “Momma look – a heart-shaped one,” she said as she brought the leaf up to my face. The sun sparkled in her light blue eyes and she smiled while she continued to pick them off one by one. “Look Mom – another one!”

I told her that we needed to keep them on the tree so we could enjoy them. I soaked up the sweetness in our moment together, remembering these were her last few weeks as a four-year-old. It was hard to believe another October had arrived.

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Rebekah’s joy and excitement gave me the opportunity to celebrate the stillness of the moment. It reminded me of God’s goodness in my favorite season and in every season knowing that in no time the multicolored leaves will soon grow brown. They will cover our yards and be thrown into bags. Winter will bring its chill and barrenness and will have us waiting for the spring flowers to bloom.

IMG_0064 (1)No matter the doubts, struggles, anxieties, and fears we have at times­­– even in the midst of such a beautiful time of year, the Lord gently assures us that He is here. His creation, handiwork, and creativity are all around us and they are ours for the keeping to enjoy to the absolute fullest, similar in the way that He desires for all of us to live our lives (John 10:10). May this season of coolness usher in the warmth of God’s nearness to your life.

Well, it appears you are finished with this column. What are you waiting for? Get outside!

 

Strong God, Strong Mom

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At the beginning of the year, my husband and I were asked to speak for my mother’s group on the topic of marriage. During our talk, I shared some stories on how our kids have impacted our relationship and how I struggle at times with anger and control in raising our four young children. Sharing the more raw details of life can be a scary risk that involves vulnerability but I always figure that if it can help someone else, being authentic is worth it.

Well after our talk, one of my mom friends who I respected and was a “super mom” in my eyes, came up to me and said how much she related to what I had to say.

“Really?” I asked her…

Read the rest on FortheFamily.org

 

 

 

When There are No Words, but Tears and Hope {Reflections on the Life of Cassidy Hale}

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Last Wednesday, I had just arrived at church for a prayer meeting when I heard that a serious accident happened just a minute away on County Road 41. It was a fatality.

My heart raced as I learned more about the family and their daughter, Cassidy Hale, who had just been hit by a pick-up truck while on a walk with a friend. She was only 15 1/2 years old. I had never met this beautiful family but immediately I began tearing up as we prayed for them. I couldn’t imagine the pain they were experiencing. One of our church members Roger told me had just seen her just a little bit ago.

My mind and heart immediately reflected back to when I was a freshman in high school in North Carolina and lost two classmates from a car accident weeks before school was about to let out for the summer. The same ache I had for them struck me thinking about Cassidy and her family. I couldn’t stop thinking and praying for them all week.

When I woke up yesterday, a dense fog hovered over our town. My heart had been anxious for this day. It was the day of Cassidy’s funeral. I got showered, the kids all dressed, and dropped them off to my neighbor Jill’s (my brave friend willing to take on a lot of kids!). My husband was there early among other pastors to help where needed.

As I parked and made my way into our town’s event center where the funeral was being held, I saw parents and students supporting one another, huddled in circles and crying on each other’s shoulders. They walked by the table to see Cassidy’s artwork and baby photos up until she was a teenager.

IMG_0522I then saw her casket over to the left. After signing the guestbook, I made my way over and saw her beautiful lifeless body. The moment felt surreal as if I was in a dream and my heart couldn’t keep up with what my eyes were seeing. Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked at her picture frame on top of the casket.

As I sat down, Christian hymns were played on the piano while people were being seated. “All in All,” is the one that hit me the most. As the funeral began, a family member read a piece that Cassidy’s dad wrote about her love for superheroes, overcoming the daily grind of life, and always putting a smile on people’s faces. The pastor spoke about her life and how she was a light, a ray of sunshine to all who knew her. She knew Jesus and was now with him and would want us to know how much He too, loves us. Many came up for prayer after the invitation and showed love and support to her family. About 700 people filled the room.

IMG_1353I never knew Cassidy, as we’ve only lived here a few months, but her life and this whole tragedy has impacted me deeply. Many people would say her life was cut short. And that is true, but she lived a full life, evidence from those who knew her best. In the short amount of time she lived, her impact will reach farther and wider than most people. Because of her life, others came to know the Lord this week. Because of her life, others were encouraged to shine their light brighter too.

It is so difficult to understand the why’s. I have found myself rethinking the accident scene and how it happened and why. I have driven by it a few times. There are no words to say about her sweet young life being cut so short and the pain and suffering her mom and dad and sister are bearing. It is an unimaginable grief.

While at the graveyard, I broke down in tears watching Cassidy’s mom, dad, and sister set their roses on top of her casket. As a mother to four children, my heart ached most for her mom as I watched the pain she was enduring for her first born child. Her precious daughter that she raised and loved and sacrificed for. It was an image forever seared in my mind that I will never forget.

The hope in the midst of such a heartbreaking tragedy is that this earth is not our home. This earth and everything in it will pass away. We have all been given a dash. Cassidy’s was from March 14, 2000 – September 16, 2015. God has an appointed time for me and you. We must be ready for that time because we never know when it will be.

Do you know Jesus? Not just know of him, but do you know him intimately? Do you have a personal relationship with him and are confident that when you die you will meet him face to face and will have to give an account of your life spent on earth? Do you know how crazy in love he is with you, so much that he suffered and died on a cross to save you from your sins? Are you ready to accept his free gift of salvation and choose him as your Savior?

These are the questions Cassidy would want us to confidently answer.

In reflecting on this tragedy and Cassidy’s life, I’ve also seen that there is so much hope and light seen when a community comes together and genuinely supports each other. We hear the news immediately. We pray on the spot. We show love through serving. No matter how well we know the person, we mourn together. It is an ache that does not go away.

IMG_1349There is hope when we know that one day God is going to redeem all that has been lost from us. There is hope because we know The story isn’t over. There is hope that one day Jesus is going to wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will indeed be no more suffering. For those who know Jesus and knew Cassidy, there will one day be rejoicing in heaven together.

After the fog lifted off our little town the day of her funeral, the sun peered through the clouds and there was a gentle breeze. It was as if God was letting us see the light to remind us of the brilliant sunshine that Cassidy was to so many people in our town. And to also remind us that it is only through that we will find everlasting life.

You are thought of constantly and remembered, Cassidy Hale. You are in my prayers Jackie, Randy, and Tayler.

Summer in Holyoke: A Little Taste of Heaven

I was recently offered the opportunity to write a column for our local newspaper. It has been so much fun! This article was originally published in my column: Samantha’s Salt in The Holyoke Enterprise – September 3, 2015 (photos included in this blog post only).

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Jeremiah caught this rainbow a few weeks ago. Our new church home: First Baptist Church Holyoke (side & back view)

Before my husband began the interview process for his job in Holyoke, we never knew such a town existed on the map. The mountains were all we’d experienced in Colorado so it was a surprise to learn of the Northeastern plains. When we drove in for the first time and saw the cornfields, water tower, parks, elementary school, and nicely manicured lawns, I could sense it was a special place. The serenity is what struck me most.

I didn’t grow up in a small, rural town. I moved twice in my childhood and my dad’s work brought us to medium-sized cities on the east coast. During my summer breaks in college, I traveled overseas and did several out of state publishing internships. After I met my husband at seminary in Virginia, we moved to Dallas for more schooling. The big city has been our life for the past eight years.

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Breaking in our new yard. This will be the year of the John Deer :)

In June, when our big yellow Penske truck made its way to our driveway, I felt the baseline stress of the big city falling off my shoulders. The air was clean. The wide-open spaces refreshed my spirit. The slow pace of life was new to me and was what my soul had been craving. The orange, yellow, pink, and red radiant bursts of color in the sky at sundown gave me something to look forward to each evening.

Before we moved out, I wondered how the adjustment would go. Would I go into shock not having access to all the “stuff” and entertainment? Would it be difficult living somewhere more remote?

I miss those conveniences occasionally. But the majority of the time I appreciate fewer choices and less stuff. Less temptation is present to hit the Starbucks and Chick-fil-a drive thru. Amazon Prime has been my best friend. You can’t beat free two day shipping. We have taken a few trips out to the surrounding cities and it’s always nice to return.

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Will in the field of dandelions behind our house

My kids have found joy in exploring new swimming pools, lakes, parks, dirt roads, animals, and farms. My son got to ride on a combine for the first time and learn about harvesting. Our new church family has opened up their arms to us and is becoming the family we couldn’t bring with us.

The ability to hop on our bikes and ride to Subway, Heidi’s (the dirty chai tea latte is my favorite), mail a package without waiting in a long line, or peruse The Oak Tree is something I’ve never had before. And a 1-minute drive to the marketplace… it doesn’t get any better than that when you practically live at the grocery store with four young mouths to feed.

I realize the story I’m writing may be different when the streets are blanketed with ice and snow and all I’ll want to do is hibernate under the covers. Since it’s human nature, I will probably grow familiar with the charm and hidden blessings this little town has to offer. I know it’s not a perfect town- no place is. No people are.

12032349_10102246540751678_1138077519_nBut I pray that my heart will always find something to be grateful for here. Many people would love to live in such a place where you get the kind of “feel” you just don’t have on city streets. Where you meet some really special people who genuinely care for others – whether it’s found in a friendly wave, a genuine conversation, or in a surprise vegetable delivery on your front porch.

I definitely realize your perspective may be different than mine, especially if you’ve lived here all your life. I’m an outsider looking in. I find it amazing that you could stay planted somewhere for so long. But now I understand why. You’re in Holyoke.

As the leaves will soon fall to the ground and the air grows crisp, I will remember and be thankful for what this town meant to our family this summer – a little taste of heaven in the midst of a big transition.

And as the Lord wills, we do plan on staying a while.

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Loving the Man God Gave You

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A few months ago, my husband found a killer deal for a nice bed frame off Craigslist that he wanted to get for us. We’d been married 9.5 years and had never experienced the thrills of a king-sized bed. The problem was that it was nap time for our kids and we had to drive his chevy pick up truck in order to haul the frame and mattresses and comforter and so on. Not to mention the air conditioner on his truck was out, and the trip was not exactly a hop, skip, and a jump.

“I don’t know about this trip,” I told Jeremiah who thrives on spontaneity. “We’ve got to haul a lot of stuff and our four needy kids.”

“It will be fine,” he responded. “They can sleep on the way.”

It will be fine. Those four famous last words…

Read the rest over on Forthefamily.org

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